(Disclaimer: I’m writing this post assuming you’re not intimidated to attend a conference to begin with. If you are, don’t be. They’re fabulous, welcoming, and packed with opportunity.)
Today, we’re looking at points for consideration if you’re wondering whether to register for a writer’s conference. When I received a postcard last week advertising an upcoming conference in my area, these criteria helped me figure out whether I should attend or pass.
1. Study the breadth of the professional faculty list. I’ve attended smaller conferences that were dominated by faculty from one publishing house. That doesn’t have mean it’s not worth attending. But if you find yourself in that situation, make sure that the publishing house’s list and submission wish-list match what you write. Visit their website and check that the opportunity to submit an unsolicited manuscript or art sample is worthwhile for you. Over time, I’ve learned to study the faculty list before registering to make sure diversity exists in the list of professionals in attendance.
3. Evaluate your manuscripts. Are they finished? Are they ready to pitch? Which ones fit specific faculty members? Is there one you’d like to submit for critique? As always, make sure your manuscript is finished in case it’s requested by an editor or agent.
4. Do you plan on making a pitch? It’s a scary question, I know. But when you spend the money to go to a conference, you are also paying for the physical presence of editors and agents. When I pitched an agent for the first time, I was pretty sure I was going to throw up in my handbag. Then I started talking to the agent and was SO thankful I did. He was down-to-earth, gave me feedback, and invited me to email him a manuscript.
5. Breakdown the breakout sessions. Many conferences feature small-group breakout sessions where you have the chance to get specialized feedback or advice. Martina and I have used the “divide and conquer” method before where we went to different sessions to maximize our time. If you go with a friend and more than one session sounds interesting, this is a great way to multiply your learning. Report back and share with each other afterward.
There’s no doubt that it’s hard to decide what to do when conference alerts trickle into your mailbox or email inbox. Try to focus on what makes the most sense for you. If you’ve honed in on the reasons to go or skip, you’re more likely to be content with whatever decision you make.
Tell us how you weigh your options for attending a writer's conference. Is there something that attracts you to a conference specifically, or something that makes you comfortable in passing one up? We'd love to know your thoughts.